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Halloween Costumes on a Budget

kids wearing Halloween costumes on a budget

Whether you’re looking to dress a child or an adult, the internet offers no shortage of fun, cheap and even easy ideas for Halloween costumes.

However, they are only inexpensive until you find yourself running to the dollar store to buy a hundred Popsicle sticks or the mall for black tights, or the home improvement store for PVC pipe, or the craft store for, well, everything. Before you know it, your “inexpensive” costume can cost you not just money but also time and energy you hadn’t planned for (not to mention the space needed to store the unused scraps of material and craft supplies you’ve ended up with).

The real key to inexpensive costumes is to not be seduced by the project so much that you end up needing to perfectly replicate that “cheap and easy” idea. This year, before running to the store (or even committing to a costume) read these tips below.

Start with what you have on-hand:

Take a mental inventory of things around the house that might be of use. Below are some common costume materials that serve as foundations for multitudes of costumes:

  • Old clothing including t-shirts, hoodies, leggings, and shoes you can spray paint
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Plastic buckets or bins
  • Old cans of spray paint or craft and fabric paints
  • Stencils
  • Make-up you’re willing to sacrifice
  • Duct tape
  • Painter’s tape
  • Velcro strips
  • String
  • Strong glue

Think of what you can get for free:

  • Liquor stores often have piles of sturdy boxes they are happy to let you to take off their hands. For more pliable cardboard, ask your neighbors for the boxes their online orders come in.
  • Post a request on a forum like Facebook.com or Nextdoor.com. Your neighbors may very well have an adorable bear suit they’d love to trade (or even loan) in exchange for last year’s princess dress. Also, wigs and fake beards from last year can be reused for different characters.
  • With enough research and effort, you can even score free materials like sewing supplies, paper tubes and fabric swatches.

Plan ahead:

Whether we’re talking budget meals or budget costumes, it’s usually a lack of planning ahead that costs us the most. Halloween is hardly a surprise each year. Start by brainstorming a few weeks ahead during the morning commute or over the dinner hour. If you’ve found yourself able to commit a couple of hours the weekend before to pull your supplies together, here are some projects that really can cost you next to nothing:

Go conceptual:

Waited until the last minute? Lower your design standards without lowering the bar by playing off puns.

  • Tape a cut-out star on your shirt and tell everyone you’re a bad Amazon review.
  • Carry a “Ceilings are #1!” sign and say you’re a ceiling fan.
  • Load a bag of sugar into a wearable baby carrier and call yourself a Sugar Mama (or Daddy)
  • Fashion a bandit mask, stick a bunch of name tags to your shirt and, voila, you’re an identity thief.

Extra points if you wait for your friends to guess the joke (not recommended for kids under 5).

Above all, keep your eye on the prize

No, we’re not talking your candy haul here. The real goal of dressing up for Halloween is to have fun, connect with others and (if you’re a little one) just be adorable. Research shows that people who value connection over material experiences during the holidays remember them much more positively. What’s more, the opportunity to don a new persona offers us a powerful opportunity to role play a new identity.

Remind yourself that your neighbors are going to love your four-year-old’s visit whether he’s wearing a clever $100 Sponge Bob Square Pants costume or an old hoodie with bunny ears sewed to it and a little rouge on his cheeks. Your friends will laugh about your same-old-same-old Frida Kahlo costume and then get on with their merriment. No matter what you wear this year, cloak yourself in joy.